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As Prepared: WISTA and DC Propeller Club Luncheon Keynote

Wednesday, January 17, 2024






Thank you, Ms. Lowe for that warm introduction! On behalf of the Maritime Administration and the Department of Transportation I am honored to be here with you all today.  

In May, I attended WISTA’s annual meeting and gave insight into MARAD’s mission along with an overview of the great work we are doing at our agency. 

Today I’d like to talk about MARAD’s priority areas of work which include:  

Growing the mariner workforce,  

Maintaining and growing the U.S. flag fleet,  

Our work to develop a national maritime strategy, and finally 

What we are doing to change maritime industry culture.   


First, let me begin with MARAD’s response to the mariner shortage and the work we are doing to help recruit train and retain the next generation of mariners. 



MARAD is committed to inspiring and educating the next generation of the maritime workforce and is on the forefront of mariner education and training—a key component of our maritime policy dating back to the Merchant Marine Act of 1936.  

As you know, MARAD is essentially the service for the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, meaning that we oversee and provide governance for this academy as a part of our statutory authorities.  

The US. Merchant Marine Academy plays a huge role in maintaining our mariner workforce as it places, on average, 200 to 230 licensed mariners into the industry each year.  These midshipmen all graduate with strategic sealift officer qualifications, which means they are all ready to support the operational needs of the DoD.  On average, 25 percent of our graduates will serve as commissioned officers on active duty across all services. 

Protecting the health, safety, and welfare of our midshipmen; and ensuring that the USMMA has appropriate staff and infrastructure to support an environment conducive to learning are my top priorities for the Academy. With this in mind, MARAD has undertaken massive investments in the Academy’s physical plant and we have done a lot of hiring.   

Specifically, among other things we are: 

Renovating existing academic facilities, including the main engineering training building, Fulton Gibbs Hall, and renovating Samuels Hall - a space that will serve as an expanded dedicated simulator and training facility where Midshipmen can practice and gain experience in ship handling, and  

We are improving maintenance and habitability of facilities campus wide under our new campus wide maintenance program.   

We have also made a lot of new hires, including a Sexual Assault and Prevention Officer, a new head of Human Resources, a new Chief of Staff, and we are fortunate enough to have an SES detaillee to head up our Facilities department.  

The investments in people and facilities just described, will attract students of the highest caliber from all over the nation who will go on to serve the nation and provide innovative leadership for the industry.  


In addition to our support for USMMA, MARAD also provides extensive support to the six State Maritime Academies—located in California, Texas, Michigan (Great Lakes), Maine, Massachusetts, and New York.  Collectively, these academies supply the remaining 70 percent of the nation’s entry-level credentialed officers.   

An excellent example of our support to the SMAs and the future of our Maritime Industry – are the National Security Multi- Mission Vessels  - or, NSMVs. 

In building these vessels, – MARAD is doing our part to revitalize America’s shipbuilding industry – and provide for the future of maritime training!   

Just two weeks ago - we celebrated DOT’s custody transfer of the first of these ships to SUNY Maritime.  This is the first vessel built by MARAD in more than 60 years, and we have four more ships being built in the Philadelphia shipyard, using an innovative Vessel Construction Manager Program.  These vessels will be provided for training purposes to 5 of the 6 state maritime academies that are located in  New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Texas and California!  With the final vessel scheduled to be delivered in 2026.  

Students training on these ships will have the opportunity to learn in state-of-the-art multi-purpose classrooms, equipment simulators, and in a separate training bridge located a deck below the main bridge.  

Further, in constructing this vessel, the VCM model (a firm, fixed price contract with limited change orders) saved hundreds of millions of American taxpayer dollars and years in development and construction time!  Which means that the NSMV program  serves as a real-life example of what our nation can do when we use a maritime commercial business model that reduces risk to the U.S. Government.  

Importantly, the “M” in NSMV stands for “multi missioned” and in addition to being a training vessel, each NSMV will also be part of MARAD’s National Defense Reserve Fleet available to support major federal relief and response efforts—providing medical capabilities and berthing for up to 1,000 first responders, recovery workers, and crew!  

These purpose-built vessels  are our maritime future – They will—  

revolutionize the Nation's maritime training capabilities, 

better equip the United States to increase our ranks of a well-trained, highly efficient maritime workforce,  

 improve our security interests at home and around the world,  

all while bolstering critical sectors of our economy—thereby securing our spot as a global leader in the maritime industry! 

We know these vessels will also serve as fantastic recruiting tools - attracting students to attend the SMAs and pursue maritime career options. 

I also want to highlight our Centers of Excellence for Domestic Maritime Workforce Training and Education, or CoE, program. 

This new authority allows  me to designate certain eligible and qualified training entities as Centers of Excellence for Domestic Maritime Workforce Training and Education. Centers of Excellence designations serve to assist the maritime industry in obtaining and maintaining the highest quality workforce.  This is a significant broadening of MARAD’s authority and will, if funds are appropriated, allow us to support maritime workforce training beyond the traditional blue water mariners. MARAD designated 27 COEs in 2021 and is currently reviewing applicants for our 2nd round of COE designee institutions. 


MARAD also supports the Department of Defense in their efforts to protect and defend our national interests globally.  

America’s strategic sealift provides the Nation with the capability to project power by deploying forces and moving cargoes worldwide during peace, war, and/or in any contested environment. Sealift requires a combination of commercial and Federal resources to succeed.  

The Government-owned strategic sealift fleet includes the MARAD-maintained Ready Reserve Force (RRF) as the single surge sealift provider.  Additionally, the U.S.-flag fleet now has 92 privately owned, commercially operated internationally trading U.S.-flag vessels. Most of these commercial vessels participate in the Maritime Security Program (MSP), the Tanker Security Program (TSP) and the Cable Fleet Security (CSF) program, which MARAD manages to provide capacity to DoD in response to national security or defense needs.   


The RRF is a fleet of 48 Government-owned vessels available to transport DOD cargo and meet other mission requirements – this is our operational role - 8 of these vessels are underway today supporting US TRANSCOM Missions.  RRF vessels average more than 46 years in age—many well past their expected use—which makes recapitalization– existential!   

Consistent with the three-pronged approach in the U.S. Navy’s 2018 “Sealift That the Nation Needs” report to Congress, and the FY18 NDAA, MARAD is recapitalizing and modernizing our aging RRF first through service life extensions, and second by purchasing newer, second-hand ships from the open market, using our Vessel Acquisition Manager process.   

We have completed the purchase and delivery of five vessels to date with a fifth vessel, CAPE STARR delivered just last week - and MARAD will continue to work closely with Navy, DOD, and USTRANSCOM to continue this procurement action up to the 9 vessels currently authorized. 

In the FY2023 NDAA, MARAD received authorization to consider the third prong, building 10 strategic sealift vessels.  If funded, MARAD will use the Vessel Construction Manager process currently in use to build our NSMV’s to build these new strategic sealift vessels.   


MSP, the heart of sustainment sealift, is made up of a fleet of 60 commercially viable, militarily useful vessels, active in international trade and available on-call to meet DOD contingency requirements. MSP operators provide DOD with assured access to ships as well as the multibillion-dollar global intermodal networks maintained by participating carriers.  

MSP operators provide employment on their vessels for 2,400+ highly trained, skilled U.S. merchant mariners – part of our mariner workforce our country depends on to crew the RRF. Additionally, MSP supports more than 5,000 shore side maritime industry jobs each year. Right now, we have 58 vessels enrolled in MSP, and we anticipate announcing the enrollment of the final two imminently! 


In addition, the Tanker Security Fleet Program addresses the need for more U.S.-flag refined product tankers capable of loading, transporting, and storing on-station bulk petroleum products to meet both national economic needs and DOD contingency requirements. This program is in direct response to DOD needs to counter threats in the Pacific Theater. 

The Tanker Security Program, initiated in the FY 21 NDAA, with funding appropriated in the FY 2022 is new, with nine of ten Tank vessels selected for the program.  We anticipate the 10th to be announced soon.  Congress has authorized MARAD to increase the Tanker program to 20 vessels, but the full appropriation has not yet been made available. 


Finally, Our Cable Security Program Fleet consists of 2 vessels tasked with helping to protect and maintain support for the U.S. seabed infrastructure.   

Cargo Preference 

In addition to sealift support provided by the MSP, TSP, and CSF, cargo preference requirements ensure we have capacity to carry 100% of our DOD Cargo and 50% non-DOD cargo and keeps vessels operating under the U.S.-flag to ensure availability in times of crisis.   

In addition to ensuring demand for US Flag vessels, Cargo preference, and DOD Cargo Sealift requirement in particular, ensure demand for the U.S. mariners who crew these ships, which ultimately improves the Nation’s overall sealift readiness.  We are in the midst of preparing for a cargo preference rulemaking, as directed by the 2023 NDAA. 


So, I have talked about what I am working on right now but let me briefly discuss our work underway for the future. First, MARAD has begun work to develop a National Maritime Strategy, as directed by the FY 2023 NDAA.  

To assist in that work, we MARAD has selected the Center for Naval Analyses, or CNA, to identify and examine the key components of an enduring national maritime strategy, that can be leveraged for decades to come.  

MARAD, working with CNA and numerous stakeholders from across government, industry, labor, academia, and other partners will identify the commercial sealift requirements to meet our nation’s future economic and security needs, identify shortfalls in current capabilities that need to be addressed, and provide MARAD with options to address any shortfalls in capacity and capability – from which we then develop our strategy. 

This includes addressing any shortfalls in the areas of focus I mentioned earlier such as our strained workforce and the modest presence of U.S. flag commercial ships in international trade.   

In addition to this, and also at the direction of Congress, we are in the process of drafting a Diversity Recruitment Strategy for USMMA as well as the SMAs, which will guide these institutions to more effectivity recruitment a diverse candidate pool of students.  

Lastly, at the direction of the FY 2021 NDAA, and working with stakeholders, MARAD has developed a five-year strategic Mariner Workforce Development Plan to recruit, train, and retain merchant mariners.  

Overall, the Plan addresses four elements: 

Merchant mariner recruitment,  

Merchant mariner training, 

Merchant mariner retention, and 

Demonstration and research priorities related to the above three elements.  

We are close to a release date on this report, and it will be posted on MARAD’s website. 

All the above will complement the work our USMMA, and SMA’s, as well as labor schools, and other stakeholders do to grow out most critical resource - our mariners - every day! 



At MARAD, we strongly believe that the maritime industry should become a place where every mariner can succeed based on their professionalism and skill. 

As you all know, in late 2021, we paused Sea Year training of Midshipmen at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy so that we could implement new measures to strengthen protections for our cadets and spur culture change across the industry. 

The program we introduced, is the “Every Mariner Builds a Respectful Culture” or EMBARC program. As of today, there are 19 commercial operators enrolled in EMBARC; together, they operate more than 180 commercial vessels.  

This program specifies approximately 30 new standards intended to help prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment, to support survivors, and to support a culture of accountability and improve safety for Merchant Marine Academy cadets and for all mariners.   

EMBARC is now codified in LAW - including the codification of the basic tenets of EMBARC in 46 U.S.C. § 51322 (Protection of cadets from sexual assault onboard vessels) and includes provisions requiring MSP/TSP/CSF vessel owners/operators to meet EMBARC requirements as a condition of receiving payments under the programs.  

IN addition, the law includes mandates to:  

control access to master keys on a vessel,  


ensuring that cadets (and all mariners) have a contact at carriers’ corporate offices to discuss any issues of concern on the vessels on which they are training.   

Further - These policies and procedures must be documented in the operator’s Safety Management System.  Inclusion in the SMS ensures that compliance checked by our very own MARAD Office of Cadet Training At-Sea Safety and authorized agents like ABS.  

In addition, the US Merchant Marine Academy also issued new policies/procedures to improve safety during Sea Year.   

For example, we now provide a voice activated satellite phone to every cadet before they go to sea. They can use the phone to call USMMA, family, or friends.  And USMMA has re-written their Superintendent’s instruction on Sea year and their Sea Year Guide to ensure all Cadets have understanding of and access to the information they need to prepare for sea year and to ensure they are safe at sea.   

MARAD is also actively working on an Interim final rule for EMBARC.   

I know that culture change is happening—and I emphasize to you that EVERYONE in this room has a critical role to play in supporting continued change. 

We have also taken numerous steps to improve safety on the Merchant Marine Academy campus and to remove barriers to reporting.  Specifically, we have: 

Strengthened our Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office by hiring more experts in this field.   

Expanded our amnesty policy to ensure that Midshipmen can report sexual assault and harassment without the fear of facing discipline for collateral violations of Academy policy.  

And we have established concurrent jurisdiction to ensure that local law enforcement can respond to sexual assault—and any other crime—on the campus. 

We recognize that these are just first steps, and we are committed to continuous review and improvement of our policies and procedures.  


Another priority of mine, in addition to EMBARC is improving the quality of life for all mariners.   

According to maritime industry reports, salaries for entry-level merchant mariners are at an all-time high. However, a great starting salary is just that-- only a start. Despite very competitive pay, the industry continues to grapple with a mariner shortfall.  

While most acutely felt in the efforts to recruit and retain women--who are woefully underrepresented at about 8% of the maritime community-- the downward trend in the number of mariners across all demographics, demands our attention. With that in mind, over the next several months I am going to focus on quality-of-life issues.   

Family/work-life balance could help stem the tide of a dwindling workforce, as many mariners indicate they want the flexibility necessary to be actively engaged parents and family members. I have spoken with many of you, carriers, and labor, about this – I know you are thinking about it – and I know it will take time.   

But, I truly believe Mariners who want careers and families can indeed have both if a pathway is mapped out in an effective family policy and embraced by industry and labor.  I know this to be true from my time in the Navy.

We can do this, and in today’s employment environment, we must do this for the future of our industry.   


All of what I shared with you just now is only a small segment of what my team and I are working on.  And while it sounds like a lot—because it is—I want to share with all of you that I show up to work every day excited and energized about the opportunities to help move this industry forward!   

I am excited because I know that MARAD’s work, combined with that of other federal agencies and our industry partners—like the ones represented right here in this room, will ultimately enhance not only your experiences as current members of the maritime industry—but importantly this work, OUR WORK, will enhance and improve the experiences of future generations of mariners as well as the U.S. maritime industry at large!  

I look forward to seeing where this work takes all of us. I thank you for your leadership in this industry, and I thank you again for the opportunity to join you today.